Lawrence voters this April won't be asked to consider a question directing city commissioners to spend more money for services related to the poor and homeless.
Steve Ozark, a Lawrence advocate for better homeless services, in January asked city commissioners to give voters in the April city elections an opportunity to support additional funding for homeless and poverty-related programs.
But Ozark said Monday that he's no longer pushing for a citywide vote, in part because he's not sure it would be successful at the ballot box.
"What I've learned, especially from the bloggers in town, is we could not win a referendum that had the word homelessness in it," Ozark said. "The word homelessness strikes fear into people."
Ozark, though, will be at tonight's City Commission meeting to ask commissioners to commit to having a serious discussion about providing more funding for homeless services and poverty-related programs in the 2008 budget. He wants commissioners to have a study session on the issue before this summer, when commissioners will begin crafting the city budget for next year.
Ozark, who has been active in the issue as the founder and coordinator for the Lawrence Community Interfaith Initiative, said he's been frustrated by the pace at which the city has tackled the issue of homeless services. He said a report by the Community Commission on Homelessness - which recommended funding for a new shelter, transitional housing and other programs - was a good one. But the 2005 report said it would take about $4.7 million over a three-year period to adequately fund the plan.
Since that report, commissioners have added about $160,000 to the budget to fund social service case managers to work with the homeless.
"My frustration is that time is marching on," Ozark said. "The discussion is always there from the city, and the caring is always there from this community, too. But I want to know when are we going to put our foot down and take this to a different level?"
Mayor Mike Amyx said he was pleased that Ozark had decided to no longer push for a referendum on the subject.
"I did not think that would be the best way to go with it," Amyx said. "There are a lot of issues that we need to discuss before we would be in a position to support a referendum."
Amyx said he was looking forward to hearing from Ozark, but stopped short of saying that he could support additional funding for homeless and poverty programs in the 2008 budget. Amyx has been sounding the alarm that next year's budget may be exceedingly tight because of lower-than-average increases in assessed valuations in the community. Amyx has asked city staff members to send out a letter to the various nonprofit agencies that apply for city funding to alert them to the possibility that funding increases for their agencies may be small to nonexistent.
Ozark said he won't be spending time on organizing a campaign; he'll work to educate the community about homelessness and poverty-related issues. He said he hopes to develop a report by this summer that shows how the city could use existing funding to better serve the homeless. For example, he said the community spends significant amounts of money to house the homeless or mentally ill in jail rather than provide treatment or supervised housing.
"We're spending the money now but not getting the results," Ozark said.